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Whether you’re headed on a day trip, going back to school or running errands, odds are you’ll need to own a rucksack. These are some great options that look great and are made in a way that is good for people and the planet.
We’ve put together a list of the best sustainable backpacks to keep you stylish and organised on the go.
What should you look for in a sustainable backpack?
Rucksacks are practical bags. The likelihood is you’ll be hard on yours. If you’re anything like me, your backpacks will see their fair share of adventures, dirt and rain, and also be used to carry around some of your most important items on a day to day basis. One of the most important factors in choosing a backpack is quality. Quality bags are more durable.
Some companies even offer a lifetime guarantee on their products to ensure that you only have to buy once (check out Timbuk2 below).
Many of the backpacks we have listed are made from recycled materials. Eco friendly bags can also be made from fabrics like organic cotton canvas, vegetable tanned leather, or even vegan leathers such as Pinatex). Look for materials that are non-toxic, ideally biodegradable and renewable. This makes them much better for the planet. You’ll generally find they last longer too!
Extending an item’s wear life by nine months reduces its carbon, water and waste footprints by around 20-30 per cent. Buying second hand is a great way to reduce the environmental impact of your purchase by extending the wear of something which may otherwise end up in landfill.
Whilst the term ‘sustainability’ generally refers to how environmentally friendly the processes and products are, there is no true sustainability without ethical standards. Ethical companies pay fair wages, ensure safe working conditions, and include other benefits such as education and healthcare for their workers.
Timelessness and versatility
Make sure that you look for styles that are both timeless and versatile. It’s no use buying an eco friendly backpack from a brand with the shiniest of credentials if you’re going to change your mind and get rid of it any time soon. You know your personal style better than anyone else, so try to stick to something your future self will thank you for.
Your personal values
It’s important to remember that almost every sustainable brand will be doing some things right, but also have other areas that need more work. What do you personally put first: vegan, lifetime guarantee, organic, FairTrade? There’s no wrong answer here.
Confused about the difference? Check out this article
Taking care of your backpack
Looking after what you own is one of the best ways to keep your wardrobe working for you. If your bag comes with care instructions, be sure to follow them. If not, take care of it the best you can.
Both fabric (such as recycled polyester or cotton canvas) and leather bags should be cleaned with a damp cloth to remove dirt. Avoid using hot water or putting bags in the dryer. You should also think about using a specialised treatment such as a leather cream or waterproofing spray regularly.
This will keep your bag looking and functioning on top form.
What functionality / features are important in a backpack?
When you’re choosing a backpack, it’s important to think about any features that it needs to have, and any you can do without. This will differ from person to person, depending on your lifestyle and how you intend to use the bag.
For instance, I use my backpack almost every single day. My rucksack has to safely carry my laptop and other techy things as I work from coffee shops most days. I am often outdoors and my bag goes on all sorts of adventures, so it needs to be comfortable, durable and waterproof. It needs to hold my laptop and water bottle, as well as a bunch of my other stuff, so a good amount of organisational pockets are key.
It’s best to spend a bit of time choosing, as the most sustainable product is the one you keep for a long time. Ultimately, your backpack needs to be right for you and only you.
Lo & Sons
- Best for: Minimalist style
- Ethics: Organic & recycled materials. Gives back
Looking for a sleek but practical bag? Designed with the frequent traveller in mind, these bags will take you seamlessly from the office to the outdoors.
Lo & Sons is a small, family-owned brand with a focus on producing eco friendly and ethical products. Their minimalist designs are both functional and durable with plenty of organisational compartments.
United by Blue
- Best for: Rugged and adventurous
- Ethics: B Corp, water cleanup
If you’re in the market for something as active and versatile as you are, United by Blue could be a great option. These eco friendly bags are equally suited for study as they are for the outdoors. They are water-repellent and have dedicated pockets for your water bottle and laptop.
As if that wasn’t enough, each bag purchased removes a pound of plastic waste from oceans and waterways.
- Best for: Urban and nomadic
- Ethics: Bluesign, lifetime guaranteed
Timbuk 2 is a San Francisco based brand which has developed something of a cult following. And for good reason. Timbuk 2 has a huge range of bags, which are well-designed with organisational compartments for your everyday needs, and even some that are expandable or convertible for ultimate versatility.
Their commitment to sending zero bags to landfill is backed up by the lifetime guarantee on all of their bags. Repair facilities are available at their San Francisco workshop. They also empower customers to make repairs themselves through resources online and making spare parts available. They also have a program to take back bags if they are no longer wanted, so they can be donated to others who need them.
- Best for: Chic and conscious
- Ethics: Recycled. Less Water.
What could be better than truly sustainable and timeless design? Opus Mind is the brainchild of Kathleen Kuo, a luxury leather specialist who has worked with Chanel and Dior, and who certainly knows a thing or two about designing with the style-conscious in mind.
Their beautiful bags are handmade by Italian artisans. Opus Mind uses renewed leather, which is waterproof, scratch resistant and lighter than standard leather, the process also uses 90% less water.
- Best for: Timeless and durable
- Ethics: Sustainable Apparel Coalition, Fair Labour Association
Swedish company Fjallraven aims to make nature more accessible by creating simple and practical bags, clothing, and gear.
Wherever possible, they use natural materials such as wool, cotton and down, in order to make as light an impact on the environment as possible. All items are made to strict codes around sustainability, from design to materials and production.
- Best for: Second hand backpacks
- Ethics: Second hand
Why not see if you can thrift a bag? Using ThredUp, you can sort items with filters to find the perfect bags for your lifestyle. It might take a little more time to find something amazing, but it’s a great way to find something more unique.
And of course, shopping second hand is great for your wallet and the environment.
- Best for: Fun and customisable
- Ethics: B Corp. Gives back.
Looking for fun colours and prints for adults and kids? Look no further than STATE bags. This certified B Corp makes classic bag styles in a wide variety of colourways to suit every taste. The cherry on top: you can customise your bag with initials and symbols to make it even more personal to your style.
What’s more, STATE uses recycled fabrics and has a give back program which donates fully packed bags to kids in need in the USA.
- Best for: Casual and functional
- Ethics: B Corp, 1% for the planet
Well known for their eco credentials, Patagonia have been a leader in the sustainability space for the past four decades. They have a solid range of backpacks that will see you through practically any adventure. Many of the materials used are recycled, and they are always committed to ethical and transparent production.
Patagonia’s Worn Wear scheme allows you to trade in used gear for store credit, and they will recondition and resell them.
Walk With Me
- Best for: Convertible and stylish
- Ethics: Global Recycled Standard and plastic free
Walk With Me boasts a bit of a hipster vibe and an impressive range of credentials: Oekotex, Global Recycled Standard certified, and Better Cotton Initiative. Their recycled leather and organic waxed cotton bags are produced plastic free. Ideal if you’re looking for something simple and classic, and what’s more, many of them are convertible for maximum functionality.
Walk With Me operates on a made-to-order basis, instead of producing ahead of time to cut waste. They also offer a repair service at their workshop in Berlin.
There are some awesome stylish and functional sustainable bags out there. These are just a few of the best brands we’ve found, but is by no means an exhaustive list, although there should be something in there for everyone.
Ultimately, you will know better than anyone what is the best bag for you, based on your own specific requirements and lifestyle. Whatever you choose, if you buy a new backpack, we hope you love it and keep it for many years to come.